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In the South Seas, a volcano explodes, eventually causing North Pole icebergs to shift. Below the melting polar ice caps, a 200-foot-long praying mantis, trapped in the ice for centuries, begins to stir. Soon after, the military personnel at Red Eagle One, a military station in northern Canada that monitors information gathered from a nearby radar line, realize that the men at one of their outposts are not responding to calls. Commanding officer Col. Joe Parkman drives there to investigate, and finds the post destroyed, its men disappeared and giant slashes left in the snow outside. When a blip on the outpost's radar screen is soon sighted, Joe sends his pilots out, and one is attacked. Joe searches the wreckage, and this time, in addition to the huge slashes, finds a five-foot-long pointed object in the snow. He then takes it to General Mark Ford at the Continental Air Defense Command in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Ford gathers top scientists, including Professor Anton Gunther, to examine the object, but after they fail to identify it, Gunther recommends calling in Dr. Nedrick Jackson, a paleontologist at the Museum of Natural History. When Ned receives the call from Ford, he is helping museum magazine editor Marge Blaine plan her next issue, and later dodges her questions as she begs him for a big scoop. Later, after examining the object, Ned quickly recognizes it as a torn-off spur from an insect's legs, and soon guesses, from evidence that the creature ate human flesh, that it must be a gigantic praying mantis. Meanwhile, in the Arctic, the people of an Eskimo village spot the mantis in the sky, and although they hurry to their boats to escape, it swoops down and kills several men. Ned is sent to Red Eagle One to investigate further, and upon leaving, discovers that Marge has finagled permission to accompany him as his photographer. They reach the base, where all the men, including Joe, are smitten by Marge's beauty. That night, Marge and Joe join Ned in his office and discuss the creature, not realizing that it is drawing close to the office window. Marge suddenly catches sight of it and screams, and the bug attacks the building. Although the full unit opens fire on the mantis, it is unscathed and moves away only after planes encircle it. Hours later, the base remains on red alert, but they finally hear that the bug has attacked a boat in the Canadian sea, which means, Ned calculates, that it is flying at a speed of 200 miles an hour. Ford calls a press conference to announce the bug's existence, and asks the Civilian Ground Observer Corps to track its whereabouts. Over the next few days, Ned, Marge and Joe tirelessly track the bug's progress, with the help of military and civilian onlookers. Late one night, Joe drives Marge home, stopping briefly to ask for, and receive, a kiss. They are distracted by a report of a nearby train wreck, and although they assume it to be a fluke accident, soon after, a woman leaving a bus sees the mantis, and all emergency personnel are put on alert. The mantis is then sighted in Washington, D.C., atop the Washington Monument. Joe is one of the pilots who bravely attempt to drive the bug toward the sea, but a dense fog throws him off course, and he flies directly into the mantis. As the wounded mantis drops to the ground and crawls into the Manhattan Tunnel, Joe safely parachutes to the ground. Ford heads a team that seals off the tunnel, filling it with smoke to provide cover for Joe and his special unit of men, who enter the tunnel armed with chemical bombs. They creep past wrecked cars until suddenly the bug appears in the fog only a few yards ahead of them. They shoot at it, but it lumbers on, forcing them backward. The mantis seems immune to the ammunition until, only feet from the tunnel entrance, Joe throws a grenade in its face, and it collapses, dead. Later, Ford, Ned, Joe and Marge enter the tunnel to examine the bug. Marge photographs its face while the men walk around its side, but Joe suddenly sees the mantis' arm move, and runs to protect Marge. Although Ned explains that the bug's movement was merely an automatic reflex, Joe takes the opportunity to pull Marge into an embrace.